People Support Abortion Rights and Gun Control. They Might Vote Republican Anyway.
May 26, 2022
This morning’s Morning Consult poll (B) on gun control and the Marquette Law School poll (A/B) on abortion look like great news for Democrats this fall. Until you read them (specifically the Morning Consult poll). It takes cherry picking the results to make this poll look like gun control candidates will mop the floor in November. The results on this poll are messy with respondents giving seemingly inconsistent responses. This may be related to how questions were posed. It’s a perennial challenge in issue polling. I touched on that last week while discussing whether polling on abortion could be problematic for Republicans this fall. But it may just be that correct - that Americans will vote for people who oppose the things they support.
Let’s summarize what the polling in general is telling us about abortion, gun control, and Republicans right now:
Americans strongly support keeping Roe in place and oppose most of the attacks on it by Republicans.
Americans strongly support most gun control measures – including 88% supporting background checks for all gun purchases.
Does this mean that Americans really don’t care about abortion and gun control? Well, it’s not unfair to conclude that. After all, these are two issues that go to directly to personal autonomy and safety. One would think most people do have strong, deeply-held opinions on these issues, not just convenient or casual ones. Why would someone oppose Republican positions on these issues and vote for them anyway? Well, there are at least two interrelated reasons for this.
First, a vote for a representative is often about more than one or two issues. Most Americans still think the economy is the most important issue and the Republicans have a completely unearned reputation for being the party better able to manage the economy – thanks largely to now baked-in rhetoric that the DLC (Clinton) wing of the Democratic Party parroted consistently in the 80s in an effort to move the party to the right and, supposedly, electoral success. As long as the economy is the number one issue for most Americans, inflation will influence their vote more than abortion or gun control. And if they are voting based on concerns about the economy, that’s usually a good thing for Republicans.
The second reason why Americans will vote for Republicans while opposing their positions on abortion and gun control is that most do not see these issues as specifically impacting them. No matter how many mass shootings and homicides we have in this country, most Americans will not be or know victims of them. Even though almost every American indeed knows someone who has had an abortion, that information is often kept private so that a lot of Americans can say they don’t know anyone who has had an abortion even though they do. And most women do not have abortions, so when it comes to direct impacts most Americans have not experienced them. However, when it comes to inflation everyone feels that – especially in an environment of long-term wage stagnation. This is likely the reason the economy ranks as the most important issue for a large plurality of Americans.
While we must not let the anger over the Republicans dismantling abortion rights and obstructing any gun regulation – whether “common sense reforms” or otherwise – we have to recognize for most voters the issue is the economy. And for most potential Democratic voters, it may be things like voting rights, debt relief, and racial justice. Democrats need to focus the message on the economy (inflation is bad, but nearly every other indicator of the economy is good or improving for regular people right now), but have to show more tangible results for their base.1 For voting rights and debt relief, in particular, it is not about messaging; it’s about doing something while Democrats still control Congress. And Democrats should be thinking much broader than student loans. Medical and credit card debt relief is necessary too. If Jon Oliver can figure out a way to provide $15 million in medical debt relief to ordinary Americans, governing Democrats should be able to figure out a similar program at scale.2 And for abortion and gun control, it’s about both messaging and doing something.
Abortion and gun control should be turnout maximizing issues for Democrats this fall, even if nothing is done about those issues between now and the election. I bet most voters for whom those issues are really important understand the need to get excess majorities in Congress to get anything done. But doing nothing on voting rights and debt relief is likely to self-sabotage efforts to maximize turnout among young people and others. Also, doing nothing about voting rights may very well sabotage democracy writ large. Most Democratic Senators are not taking that threat seriously.
This is going to be a tough election. Don’t despair; organize!
I don’t know what needs to be done about inflation in a policy sense. Every single developed nation is dealing with high inflation right now, whether that nation is led by liberal Joe Biden or by conservative Boris Johnson.
In 2016, Oliver purchased $14.9 million in medical debt from a debt acquisition company for $60,000. He forgave the entire amount, which resulted in debt relief for almost 9,000 people.
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